Thursday, August 16, 2012


I had a conversation the other day with someone who was having problems with an individual at work. It's common for all of us to encounter people in life that push our buttons. The best of these circumstances occur with people whose feelings matter nothing to us and, if we choose, we can unload on them without guilt. I always start out pleasant in my exchanges with anyone, but if they fire the first salvo, I feel empowered to fire back. I don't especially enjoy confrontation, but I don't shy away from it either. I much prefer dealing with people nicely. I will bend over backwards if I feel someone is trying their level best regarding whatever business stands between us. It's when I hear that smart-ass attitude that the Brooklyn in me rears up.

I come by whatever restraint I have from watching my mother. She could smile sweetly and get along with anyone. Even people I knew she despised, Mom could have them eating out of her hand by just being nicer than they were. If they said something nasty, Mom would find something in their statement to agree with, or skillfully turn the conversation to another topic, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I'm not sure she ever confronted anybody, and at times that meant taking more guff than I ever would have, but that was Mom's style and I admire her for it. People would confide in her because they knew she could listen without judging, and always have something positive to say. People always left a conversation with my mother feeling better than when it started. 

When I think back on the gift that made her so easy to talk to, it was that she was such a wonderful actor. I'd watch her in the presence of the most mean-spirited people whose company I know she detested, but Mom would be all smiles and have these louses laughing out loud. You might think this made Mom a hypocrite, but that was not the case at all; she wasn't buttering these people up to get anything out of them, she was merely employing her acting skills to get through what might have become an unpleasant situation if she didn't have the ability to defuse it. Others who spoke to these idiots were soon arguing with them because they took the bait and reacted to some of the spiteful things they said. With Mom, they bounced off like bullets off Superman.

When you think about it, Mom was an intuitive genius well ahead of her time. I remember going to seminars on human behavior and listening to overpriced consultants telling me that others did not have the power to make you angry; only you could do that by buying into what they were saying. They taught us techniques to deflect criticism or acknowledge it without agreeing with it...that's exactly what Mom was so adept at. I remember thinking: Why doesn't she tell this hatchet-faced cousin what she needs to hear, and actually getting angry by proxy on Mom's behalf. Soon I was steaming but Mom was smiling and moving off to talk to someone else with a look of great serenity on her face.

When you get into situations that might become confrontational, or you're about to be in someone's company whose presence usually aggravates you, take a page out of Mom's book. Slip into a role that will allow you to act your way through any unpleasantness. You won't antagonize your button-pusher, and more important, you won't elevate your own blood pressure because of a jerk who's just not worth it. If you finally get tired of smiling, rather than drop a bunch of F-bombs on your tormentor and thereby stoop to their level, put them down with your rapier wit. You might say something like: "You're a wonderfully modest person and you have so much to be modest about." This will make you feel better and your victim might even take your remark as a compliment, poor fool.


Children's Craniofacial Association 


1 comment:

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Your mother was an insightful woman, I'll bet she NEVER told her friends to give up high heels!